BU News Service
A concentrated silence lay like a blanket over a large room at the Harvard Kennedy School this past Friday as a panel of four academics, public servants and elected officials discussed concrete efforts, including gender blind interviews to more female leaders, to eliminate the gender wage gap in Boston.
“We thought we could educate our way out of this problem. We couldn’t,” Katharine Lusk, policy advisor to former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and current director at Boston University’s Initiative on Cities said.
The panel spoke of findings about the root causes to the gender wage gap, including poor support for demands of a family life, a tendency to judge women more harshly and a lack of women at top levels of society.
The four panelists discussed potential remedies to the causes. These ranged from instructions on how to eliminate gender bias in interviews to efforts by the mayor to see women represented in city government.
Lusk shared her experiences working with Menino in attempting to address the issue. She said that a solution cannot come from a single angle. Instead the solution, like the root causes, must come on multiple fronts and address a series of institutional and cultural failing that cause the wage gap. This assertion was repeated and supported by every member of the panel.
The panel discussion was part of HUBWeek in Boston, a conference aimed at bringing together academia, government and business on big ideas. Representing the legislative branch of Boston government was Michelle Wu, city councillor at-large. She said that the strong presence of all three elements is why she feels Boston is the best place to push for this change in the country.
“How can we focus all of our energy on making Boston a city where everyone is welcome?” Wu asked.
Megan Costello, former campaign manager to Mayor Marty Walsh and current executive director at his Office of Women’s Advancement, said that it is important for Boston to lead by example. She said cities like Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles, who all have either government agencies working on closing the wage gap or strong laws demanding equal pay, will lead the charge so that when the federal government wants to have a conversation about closing the wage gap the country will be ready.
Massachusetts as a state does better than the national median. According to the US Census Bureau, women make 78 cents for every dollar men make on a national scale, whereas in Massachusetts, they make 82 cents for every dollar men make.
The audience was mainly female, but when the floor opened up to questions, the men in attendance were quick to ask what they could do. The panelists answered that awareness is the best thing to fight the wage gap. They shared examples like how men and women without children should take advantage of flexible schedules if they are offered to make it easier for those with children to leave early when needed.
The speakers cautioned waiting for a end-all-be-all solution to solve the problems causing the wage gap once and for all.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Lusk said on the topic.
There are currently two bills before the state legislature aimed at closing the gender wage gap.